Sunanda Vashisht
Republic of Fear
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

First came the terrible and unfortunate violence in Assam between indigenous Bodo Tribals and illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants which left 75 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Then came the reports of violence from Mumbai, Lucknow, Allahabad and other places where unruly mob ostensibly fighting for the condition of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, fought pitched battles with police, burnt vehicles and damaged public property with scant regard for law and order. Then came the rumors and exodus of people of North East living in southern cities of Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai following threatening SMS’s that they will be targeted selectively. And then it all descended into chaos, confusion and farce.

UPA government, when not busy in iftaar parties, sent out feeble noises and made impotent excuses in order to douse the fire that had started from Assam and threatened to engulf the entire country. When iftaar parties were over and done with, someone in the government woke up to the crisis and decided to take on the problem head on.

As the adage goes, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. UPA government’s response to Assam tragedy, to Mumbai violence and to the Exodus of citizens of North Eastern states is to ban free speech and impose internet censorship. In last twenty four hours blogs have been suspended and twitter handles of those who are critical of government and its policies have been blocked. This has been done without any warning and no one from the government has so far made any statement about it. We have heard of ‘pre screening’ and ‘regulating’ Internet before. Now we know that they are just fancy words for Censorship. At a time when dictatorships all over the world are opening up and allowing free speech, for a democratic country to clamp down on its citizens in such a manner is both tragic and shameful. UPA government, fresh from the body blow delivered to it by Baba Ramdev’s agitation, reeling under the gigantic corruption scams, wounded from lack of leadership further erodes its credibility by creating a republic of fear. By quelling dissent and by using unlawful methods to create fear among its law abiding citizens, this government is playing with fire. Those who talk about third wave of radicalization of Muslims and issue threats from hallowed portals of parliament are mollycoddled in the name of secularism and those who raise their voices against loot, corruption inefficiency of the government are shut up ruthlessly.

This government has no intent or no resolve to solve the issue of illegal immigrants in Assam which ironically has been gifted to us by Congress party over the years. They looked on haplessly when rioters in Azad Maidaan in Mumbai went completely berserk. Imprisoned by their own definition of secularism, Congress government of Maharashtra had given special orders against use of excessive force against thugs and hooligans which in turn increased the casualties of police forces. The height of brazenness was when Mumbai Police Commissioner was caught on camera directing his forces to let the rioters go free. All this would have been swept under the carpet by our mainstream media, had it not been for the relentless efforts of bloggers and twitterati who kept asking uncomfortable questions. Armed with a key board and broad band connection this hitherto silent and unknown majority has suddenly found a platform to voice its displeasure. Content by securing their votes once in five years, governments in past have happily escaped scrutiny because they were inaccessible. With more and more young Indians becoming net savvy and with advent of social websites like face book and twitter, the government suddenly finds itself in dock. No wonder then they decide to come down so ruthlessly on the Aam Aadmi, who they claim to represent.

It requires no special intuition to conclude that UPA government is at its wit’s end. History has taught us that whenever rulers have been desperate, whenever they have lost touch with the people they govern, whenever arrogance takes over governance that is when ordinary law abiding citizen seems a threat. Did the rioters read the blogs on internet before they went on rampage in Azaad Maidaan and Lucknow? Are any of those who desecrated sacred Amar Jawaan Memorial in Mumbai active on Twitter? Obviously not. They get brain washed instead, in their madrassas where they are taught lopsided view of the world. Does this government then have guts to swoop down on Madrassas in UP? Does this Government have guts to go after Asaduddin Owaisi who threatens third wave of radicalization amongst Muslims? Does this government have guts to acknowledge that our demographics have indeed been altered by illegal infiltration of illegal Bangladeshis? What this government instead has done is to go after people who try to show them the mirror. By suspending democracy in this manner UPA government has managed to put the final nail in its coffin.

This fight for free speech does not belong to left, right or Center. This is not about Congress or BJP. This is not about individual people even. This is about protecting the very soul of our country. This is about being loyal to the constitution irrespective of who is in power. Our constitution guarantees us freedom of expression and we shall have it. 2012 must not see repeat of 1975, because now the rules have changed. The ordinary man on the street does not see the government as mai baap sarkaar any more. He votes his representatives to power and if they fail him, he throws them out with the power of ballot.

We all know that in this day and age, censorship is a joke. We all know how to circumvent blocks and suspensions, but that is not the point. The point is that someone somewhere is muzzling our freedom of expression and that someone happens to be our own government. That should not be acceptable at any cost.

Sure there are people who indulge in hate speech, and use technology to spread rumors and objectionable material. Such people can be easily identified and exemplary punishment should be given to them. We already have laws in place under which these miscreants can be booked under. We do not need Internet censorship for that. Good old efficient policing will do that provided someone has the will to do it. The fact that this government chooses to go after bloggers instead, proves that all they are interested is in quelling dissent and murdering democracy.

I will conclude with the following immortal lines by George Bernard Shaw.

“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

Note: We at CRI have also been at the receiving end of current wave of censorship. Two columns by our editors have been suspended. Both happened to be about Assam. However, this does not faze us. We will continue to bring you the best analysis of current affairs by our immensely committed editors and contributors. What does not kill us only makes us stronger. Here is hoping these dark clouds disperse sooner than later.